After a national search, Northwestern has appointed Lisa Dhar associate vice president for innovation. In this capacity, Dhar will lead the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO), a unit integral to advancing the University’s research impact through translation and entrepreneurship. She will be part of the Office for Research leadership team and report to Milan Mrksich, vice president for research.
As associate vice president, effective April 3, Dhar will oversee strategy and operations at INVO, a team of more than 30 people whose efforts include supporting educational commercialization and new ventures. She assumes a role previously held by Alicia Loffler who retired in December after leading INVO since its inception in 2010.
“Northwestern’s research enterprise is close to $1 billion in annual sponsored funding, and that portfolio generates exciting opportunities to develop commercial technology and biomedical innovations with real impact,” said Mrksich. “INVO provides the infrastructure and mentorship to help our faculty pursue their entrepreneurial goals. I’m extremely pleased that Lisa will lead this incredible team and vital part of our research enterprise. Her strategic, scientific and collaborative abilities will further elevate Northwestern innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Research commercialization has grown steadily at Northwestern over the past decade, with INVO helping to support faculty innovators looking to turn their ideas into businesses. During that time, Northwestern-based startups have raised more than $2.75 billion in funding, with many of these ventures based in the Chicago area. INVO has seen a growth in licensing partnerships with existing companies centered around the University’s portfolio of nearly 2,600 inventions. INVO also is responsible for several prominent Northwestern initiatives, including The Garage, the Querrey InQbation Lab, the N.XT Fund and Lakeside Discovery. The executive directors of The Garage and the InQbation Lab will report to Dhar.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship are increasingly important facets of Northwestern’s identity,” said Dhar, who had served as INVO’s director of new business ventures for engineering since 2016 and, most recently, was also interim executive director for the InQbation Lab, an incubator providing space and programming for research-based entrepreneurship. “I am excited by the many opportunities to work closely with the broader Northwestern community to make a difference in our world — by cultivating entrepreneurs across the University, translating Northwestern’s intellectual property into new and established companies and facilitating our next generation of startups.”
Mrksich and Dhar said they see tremendous opportunities to leverage Northwestern’s core strength of interdisciplinary research collaboration to catalyze and bolster translational initiatives across the University. They also look to deepen partnerships within the local ecosystem and expand Northwestern’s network to accelerate the commercialization of its innovations.
Dhar credited her predecessor, Loffler, with both building INVO into a leading organization and embedding the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship across Northwestern. She also praised the “extremely talented INVO team” that will allow the office to further its mission to assist innovators of all levels, from first-time founders to serial entrepreneurs.
During her INVO tenure, Dhar has led the New Ventures Team, which manages resources for startups launched from Northwestern research, such as the $10 million N.XT gap fund, entrepreneurial training programs, partnering and networking events and coaching for external competitions and opportunities. She redesigned and served as lead instructor for the McCormick School of Engineering course “Engineering Entrepreneurship” and was co-instructor for the Kellogg School of Management course “Commercializing Innovations.” She also was an instrumental member of the team responsible for launching the first phase of the InQbation Lab’s renovation — 15,000 square feet of coworking, office and laboratory space to house startups and entrepreneurial programming.
Prior to joining Northwestern in 2016, Dhar held various leadership roles in the Office of Technology Management at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) from 2009. Earlier in her career, she was co-founder and vice president of media development for InPhase Technologies, a Bell Labs/Lucent Technologies startup that raised more than $90 million in total funding. There, she led a team of chemical engineers, chemists and optical engineers to commercialize high-performance recording media for holographic data storage. Dhar has been awarded nearly a dozen patents, has coedited a book on holographic data storage and has authored or coauthored more than 25 journal articles. Dhar earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from University of Chicago and her doctorate degree in physical chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The search for the new INVO leader was guided by a steering group of the University’s senior leaders, including Provost Kathleen Hagerty, Executive Vice President Craig Johnson, Vice President for Research Mrksich and Vice Provost for Administration and Chief of Staff Jake Julia. Their recruiting efforts were supported by the search firm Isaacson, Miller.
Matt Golosinski is director of research communications in the Office for Research.